By Daniel Silliman
Seeking to take the vacated seat of the senior-most Clayton County Commissioner, candidates are promising to clean up the north side of the county.
Gail Hambrick, Danny Hayes and Lawrence T. Ethridge, II, are all talking about the Board of Commissioners District 2 seat, currently held by Virginia Burton Gray.
The three Democrats talking about it, say the area could be -- and should be -- a better place to live, but they have different plans for making that happen.
Hayes wants to clean up the north side of the county by ending the "disconnect" between elected officials and citizens, and by making developers pitch their plans to citizens -- first.
Hambrick wants to bring in industry by working more closely with the municipalities and by studying the ways other communities have passed through painful growth periods.
Ethridge wants to clean up North Clayton by making sure it gets a lot of attention from code enforcement, law enforcement and community development.
Charles Meadows, of College Park, has also qualified to run in the July 15 primary, but did not return repeated messages left on a message machine and with a secretary, over four days.
Gray has chosen to vacate the District 2 seat, which she was elected to in 1996 as the county's first African-American commissioner, and is running for Board of Commissioners Chairman. She is not, she said, going to be endorsing any of the people attempting to replace her.
All three of the candidates, who spoke to the Clayton News Daily, described the district, which stretches from Mountain View to Bethsaida Road and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Southern Regional Medical Center, as a good place that has been let go.
"We need a cleaner county," said Hambrick. "I see trash and I see grass, higher than my knees. You should treat your own property better."
Hambrick, of Riverdale, worked for the state of Georgia for 34 years, starting out, she said, with the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, and ending as a resource coordinator in the Department of Human Resources. She has worked with the county's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since the 1980s, has owned her home in the county for 25 years and has been a community leader, activist and advocate.
"I'm an ordinary citizen who believes we ought to be getting better than we are getting," Hambrick said.
Ethridge, who was Sheriff Victor Hill's driver and bodyguard, and a major over the jail, is also promoting himself as someone who is not a politician.
"I'm just trying to be me," he said. "I'm just a man. I'm just a young man who's going to become a commissioner, someone who's going to represent Clayton County and be an ambassador of the good of Clayton County."
Ethridge said he would try to hold the community to a "standard of excellence." He criticized the high numbers of renters in the area, saying the Board of Commissioners ought to encourage more home ownership, and he criticized the loud and "obtrusive colors" seen on some businesses in the area.
Ethridge said that, as a commissioner, he would be "adamant that you want everyone to be prosperous."
Ethridge announced he was going to run for Gray's seat at a Board of Commissioners meeting, before Gray made public her decision to run for re-election. The former deputy acknowledged that he opposes the woman who's represented District 2 for the last 11 and a half years.
He said he learned from the sheriff how to be an "accessible and accountable" leader, and noticed that, in the years he's lived in North Clayton, he's "never seen a commissioner in our district."
"I tell the citizens, they will see me in the district. You actually see me shopping in our community, getting gas in our community, and worshipping in our community."
Hayes is also taking aim at the out-going commissioner, in his campaign. The third vice president of the Clayton County NAACP and the owner of a health and fitness club in North Clayton, Hayes said he supported Gray when she first ran, but grew disillusioned with the county's first African-American commissioner because of her "lack of vision."
"She wasn't doing anything," Hayes said. "Nothing would happen. She didn't have a vision for the county. This is the area of the county where the county gets most of its revenue, and yet, there's no plan for development. Why aren't we prospering? ... We're stumbling along because we have a lack of strong leadership and a lack of vision."
Hayes said he would push for better accountability of SPLOST money, more recreation centers and youth activities, and would reach out to citizens through newsletters and townhall meetings.
He is promising to work for the betterment of the community, he said, continuing what he has already been doing.
"Anybody who wants to be in political office, should be out there and working for the betterment of the community," Hayes said. "I've never stopped campaigning, because it wasn't about being an elected official, it was about being a concerned citizen. It's not a game. I've got a kid in the school system. I've got a business. I've got property here. It ain't a game to me."